Shell’s damaged Kulluk drill rig has arrived in Unalaska, a week after leaving Kodiak. The rig will towed to its specialized dock in Captain’s Bay later this afternoon.
Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith says the heavy-lift vessel that will be picking up the rig is on its way as well. The Xiang Rui Kou left China on Sunday, according to its automated tracking system. Once the heavy-lift vessel arrives, it will empty its ballast tanks, sink below the Kulluk and lift the drill rig onto its deck.
The rig will then head to dry dock in Asia for repairs. Smith says as of today, no shipyard has selected.
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While oil and gas companies are inching towards a new tax break in Juneau, they’re fighting to maintain their preferential tax treatment in Washington, D.C.
The Senate Democratic budget is expected to take aim at some controversial tax privileges.
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About a hundred state workers held a rally outside the State Office Building in Juneau Thursday to show solidarity with union leaders negotiating new contracts.
The Parnell administration is currently working out new three-year deals with three public employee unions, representing more than 11,000 workers statewide. At the same time Republican legislators have come out against raises for those employees.
With the portable sound system at the rally on the fritz, Gordon Willson-Naranjo took matters into his own hands, jumping on the railing of the State Office Building portico and leading union members in a chant.
“What do we want?” he asked.
“Fair contracts,” yelled the crowd.
“When do we want it?” Willson-Naranjo yelled back.
“Now!” yelled the crowd.
Willson-Naranjo is a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas, and a member of the Alaska State Employees Association. With about 8,500 members, ASEA is the largest state employee union.
Willson-Naranjo says he’s disappointed the state isn’t offering more of a wage adjustment to workers outside Anchorage.
“Here in Juneau we have a higher cost of living, and property value,” he said. “And there hasn’t been that full adjustment, and so I’d like to see that geographic difference. That’s my big thing.”
According to a recent negotiation update on ASEA’s website, the state’s initial wage proposal did not include any pay increase in the first year of the contract, and only one-percent increases in years two and three. The union countered with a proposed three percent increase in year one and two percent increases in subsequent years.
“We still have a ways to go in negotiations,” said ASEA Business Manager Jim Duncan. “But we’re making progress.”
Duncan says the two sides are mostly squabbling over “monetary issues” right now. The state backed off an earlier proposal to abolish the union’s third-party managed health trust, which provides medical benefits to ASEA members and their dependents.
“Which was a big issue for us,” Duncan said. “So they have decided to back off on that. But again, I’m optimistic. We’re doing some hard bargaining, they’re doing some hard bargaining. That’s what the process is about.”
Andy Mills, special assistant to Administration Commissioner Becky Hultberg, says the state wants “balanced agreements” for all of its union contracts.
“That being one that both parties are happy with,” said Mills.
The state is also negotiating with two Alaska Public Employees Association bargaining units representing about 3,000 workers. APEA’s Doug Swanson says talks are focused on wages and health benefits. But he declined to offer specifics, citing the positive state of negotiations.
“When things aren’t going well, I can complain to you,” Swanson said. “But when we’re really close to being done and things are moving and there’s positive momentum, there’s not a whole lot I can say to the media, or say to anybody, because we don’t want to break the momentum.”
By statute the administration must submit labor agreements to the legislature by the 60th day of the session. That’s March 15th this year.
In an unusual move, legislative leaders are adding their two-cents during negotiations. In a recent letter to Governor Sean Parnell, House Speaker Mike Chenault, Senate President Charlie Huggins, and the co-chairs of the House and Senate Finance Committees – all Republicans – urge the administration to “hold the monetary terms of the contracts at zero.” The letter cites the state’s fiscal uncertainty, declining oil tax revenue, and perceived competition with the private sector.
Duncan says ASEA isn’t worried about lawmakers at this point.
“The legislature has a right to express their opinion, I respect that,” Duncan said. “However, we negotiate with the administration, and once we reach an agreement, we’ll then go present that to the legislature.”
But the letter is a big concern to ASEA member Alan Plotnick, an employment security specialist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“Did the legislature get their raise? Did they get their cost of living allowance? Do they get their per diem? Do they get their offices remodeled?” Plotnick asked. “Yeah, they do.”
“We’re all Alaskans,” Plotnick said. “C’mon, let’s keep the people we have sustained with a livable income.”
The legislature is not considering any bills to limit collective bargaining, and House and Senate leaders have said they have no plans to introduce such legislation this year. But with many states and the Municipality of Anchorage acting to limit union members’ rights, Plotnick is wary.
“You look at what happened in Wisconsin,” he said. “We need to stick together, it’s really scary.”
Duncan says ASEA and the state have at least two more bargaining sessions before the March 15th statutory deadline for an agreement.
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After decades of lobbying and planning, a project to overhaul the boat harbor on St. George Island is finally moving forward. The state is accepting bids for the project design, and hopes to have fully developed construction plans by 2015.
St. George mayor Pat Pletnikoff says the sooner the harbor is built, the better.
“Without a functional harbor, in short order, [St. George] will cease to exist.”
Despite being in the middle of the Bering Sea’s most productive fishing grounds, St. George’s economy is struggling, and as a result, the population has declined precipitously in the last few decades.
The community existing harbor was built in the 90s, and its design leaves it open to wave action, particularly during the Bering Sea’s frequent winter storms. As a result, attracting the fishing fleet’s business has been difficult. With improvements to the harbor’s design, Pletnikoff is optimistic that St. George can prosper.
“Part of this study work that the state Department of Transportation is doing, and will continue to do, is to contact industry people to see what interest they have. We know there’s a lot of interest on the part of the crab fleet. They come into harbor when they can in St. George and drop off crab pots, or come in to pick up crab pots stored on the island.”
Last year, Senator Mark Begich also included a provision in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill directing the agency to study St. George as a possible port of refuge for vessels transiting the Arctic. That could help defray some of the estimated $30 million in construction costs for the harbor.
“Certainly if we can get some assistance for development from the federal government, that would fantastic. But Governor Parnell and his staff have been forthcoming, as has been our legislature, so we’re optimistic that the funding will be in place for construction in a couple of years, after all the study work is completed.”
The state has already pitched in $2.5 million to the project, and voters approved a $3 million bond in November. Bidding on the design phase of the project ends Wednesday and the state hopes to select a contractor shortly thereafter.
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The lawsuit over allegedly defective engines for the state’s fast ferries has come to an end. A settlement was announced Friday afternoon in Juneau Superior Court after nearly three years of litigation and just before the start of trial.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Dana Burke said the Alaska Marine Highway System will get eight new diesel engines provided by the German manufacturer MTU Friedrichshafen. There’ll be an option for the state to purchase two spare engines nearly at-cost.
Burke said the settlement also calls for a maintenance agreement and new five-year extended warranty on the newer model 4000 series V engines for the fast ferries Fairweather and Chenega.
We’ve built into this settlement agreement an improved mutually beneficial working relationship that’s going to allow these engines to continue to operate in ferry service from here on out. And it’s not just a rhetorical flourish with respect to an agreement to do that. We have binding commitments that make us do that.”
Value of the new engines was not immediately available, but Burke said that MTU could deliver and install them – four for each of the ferries – starting in the fall. Current plans calls for a staggered installation with the engines installed in one vessel during next fall’s off-season and the other vessel to have its engines replaced in the subsequent year. Burke said they’ve all committed to keeping the current 595 series engines operating in both vessels until they have been replaced by the 4000s.
Burke promised that the settlement agreement will be made public as soon as all the parties sign off on it. That may happen early next week.
Doug Serdahely, the Alaska attorney for MTU, said it has taken the parties and counsel working full-time nearly three weeks to develop the settlement agreement.
A lot of thought and effort has gone into it. Both sides think it is a very fair and very reasonable agreement for both sides.”
During Friday’s court hearing, both Burke and Serdahley asked that the trial scheduled for April 8th be vacated or taken off the calendar.
The lawsuit was initiated nearly three years ago and included arguments over potential evidenceand a brief diversion into federal bankruptcy court. State of Alaska attorneys recently traveled to Germany to take depositions in the case.
The state’s case against MTU and its affiliate Tognum America will be dismissed while the state hopes to preserve its interests against Robert E. Derecktor, Inc., the Connecticut builder of the ferries and the other defendant in the case. That company is currently mired in bankruptcy court and is not currently part of the state’s lawsuit.
More recently, the fast vehicle ferry (FVF) Fairweather has served Southeast Alaska while the Chenega has served Prince William Sound.
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It’s well into the evening, and members of the Alaska legislature are spread around a cavernous room. Giant American flags are hanging from the walls, and the place is abuzz. That is, until someone strikes the gavel.
SPEAKER: The House will return to order. Our next order of business is the second reading of bills, resolutions, and memorials. Mr. Chief Clerk.
CLERK: House Bill 2, by Rep. Shoup, entitled an act to extend the elective franchise to women.
Those two aren’t real political figures — they’re actors recreating the inaugural meeting of Alaska’s first elected body. And the true-to-life legislators sitting before them are just there for a bit of dinner theatre as part of the Centennial Commission’s anniversary celebration.
The commission spent six months planning for the celebration, but the reenactment only came together in the last few weeks. The men — and one woman — cast had just a couple of rehearsals to develop their characters and to learn about one of the territorial legislature’s first acts: granting women the right to vote. Odin Brudie plays Rep. Charles Ingersoll of Ketchikan, and he says it’s been a little crazy trying to get the whole performance together.
“Fortunately we have a well prepared script, and none of us are totally off book. Which would be next to impossible to accomplish in short order,” says Brudie. “But we’re situated at desks and sort of orating from our materials, so it works pretty well.”
He says it’s a trip to be able to reenact the proceedings in Juneau’s old Elks Club, where the first legislature met. Even the floors are still the same. And Brudie says it’s been a fun learning experience, too.
“I really didn’t know anything about this inaugural territorial legislature and the import of their first order of business, taking up the right of women to vote,” says Brudie. “It’s been fascinating.”
The audience seems to enjoy it as much as the actors do. Sen. Gary Stevens is the chair of the centennial commission, and when I catch up with him, he’s beaming.
“Well, this is such fun,” says Stevens. “I mean, for a retired history professor, it doesn’t really get any better than this, you know, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the territorial and state legislature.”
Stevens says the centennial has also been a good time for him to reflect on where Alaska was and where it is now.
“The first speech made by the speaker of the House was against federal oversight — federal overreach and taking too much control away from Alaska. And the speaker was talking about how, in 1913, how important it was that Alaska get its fair share. Which is exactly what we’re talking about today,” says Stevens. “So, things haven’t changed a lot, have they?”
And if there’s one thing that definitely hasn’t changed, it’s that there’s always work to be done. About halfway through the reenactment, all of the members of the House of Representatives in the audience get up from their seats and head to the door for an 8pm floor session. They have some gaveling in to do themselves.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the actor in the reenactment as Phil Smith. Rep. Charles Ingersoll was played by Odin Brudie.
A few new details have emerged in the backcountry skiing accident that caused the death of one person and injured two others over the weekend near Haines.
Alaska State Troopers were in Haines on Monday, interviewing witnesses and investigating the incident that claimed the life of 34-year-old Christian Cabanilla. He was part of a group of five skiers on a commercial heliskiing tour Sunday with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA). According to troopers, the group was dropped off on a ridge near Garrison Glacier at nearly 6,000 feet elevation in the mountains near Haines. Troopers said the group was walking on the ridge to their start point when they described hearing a “whomp” sound. That’s when the snow under them collapsed and four of the five skiers fell down the ridge an estimated 600 to 1,000 feet. The guide of the group was not involved in the fall.
Troopers said the SEABA-owned helicopter was observing the group and responded to rescue the three injured skiers.
Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said the incident was likely a cornice failure and not an avalanche. Peters said after the fall, the four skiers came to rest on top of the snow and appear to have been injured from the fall, not from being buried in snow.
SEABA helicopters flew the skiers to the Haines Airport where ambulances met the patients and transported them to the Haines clinic. Cabanilla was pronounced dead at the clinic. His body was flown to Anchorage for autopsy. The two injured skiers were transported to a Juneau hospital. One of them was later transported to Harborview Medical Center in Juneau. Peters said troopers would not release the type of injuries and are not tracking their condition, but the injuries were initially described as “non-life threatening.”
Troopers are not releasing the names of any of the other skiers involved because they are considered witnesses in the death investigation.
SEABA company officials have not commented since Monday when they said they were mourning the loss of a friend. Cabanilla was employed as a guide with SEABA, but on Sunday, he was not skiing with the group as the lead guide, according to the company and troopers.
Aaron Burmeister was the first to leave Nikolai for McGrath, checking out at 12:25 p.m. Tuesday.
Last year’s runner up, Aliy Zirkle, followed Burmeister out of Nikolai less than an hour later.
Former Iditarod champions Mitch Seavey and Lance Mackey also departed from Nikolai, at 1:52 p.m. and 2:02 p.m., respectively.
Last year’s winner, Dallas Seavey, checked into Nikolai at 11:19 a.m. Tuesday morning and, as of 2:50 p.m. Tuesday, remains at the checkpoint.
Aaron Burmeister, Lance, Mackey, Aliy Zirkle and 14 others are taking a breather at the Nikolai checkpoint.
Burmeister was the first to arrive, checking in at 8:11 a.m. Tuesday morning, with Mackey and Zirkle trailing less than an hour behind.
No one has departed Nikolai for McGrath yet.
NOTE: Some of the details of this story might be inappropriate for certain readers and listeners.
The former principal of Blatchley Middle School in Sitka has been indicted on charges of sexual assault.
A Sitka grand jury on Friday charged 54-year-old Joseph Robidou on six counts of felony sexual assault. He also faces an additional five misdemeanor charges for incidents that allegedly happened beginning last May and as recently as January. All of them involve other adults, and prosecutors say students at the school were not involved.
Three people are listed by their initials in the indictment, but are not named directly. All three are adult women who, during the times of the alleged incidents, worked at Blatchley Middle School. District officials said two are teachers and the third was a substitute teacher who no longer lives in Alaska.
Court documents lay out a variety of charges. They include separate incidents in which Robidou allegedly exposed himself, touched one woman’s breasts or forced others to touch his genitals. He’s also accused of masturbating in front of two women in their empty classrooms, and on separate occasions, doing the same thing at their homes.
In one case, at one of the women’s homes, the court documents state he put his hands around her neck and told her “this would be a lot easier if you were passed out.”
The first accusation came to light one week after Robidou moved from his job at Blatchley to the district office, where he had just been hired as business manager.
Schools Superintendent Steve Bradshaw was in Juneau on Monday, but listened in by phone as KCAW interviewed Mary Wegner, the assistant superintendent of schools.
“There are a lot of rumors saying that he was promoted because of this,” she said, “and we found out afterward. It’s important that the public know that immediately when we found out, we took action to protect our staff, and make sure he did not have access to the schools anymore.”
Robidou became principal at Blatchley in 2008. He left that job on Friday, Jan. 11. He began as business manager the following Monday, Jan. 14. Wegner says at the end of that week, on Jan. 18, one staff member came forward with allegations.
“It was the police investigation that uncovered the second staff member and the substitute teacher,” Wegner said. “We as a district don’t even have a lot of the details. We only know what the one person chose to disclose to me. With the evidence that was presented through her sharing, we immediately turned it over to the police for their investigation, and then stopped our investigation so we weren’t stepping on the police’s toes.”
Wegner and Bradshaw both say Robidou was placed on administrative leave as soon as the allegations were made. He tendered his resignation sometime during that leave, and it was effective March 1.
Sitka attorney Jim McGowan represented Robidou at his arraignment on Friday. He said his client would not comment to reporters on the allegations. Robidou will be represented by Juneau attorney Julie Willoughby for further proceedings. She also declined comment.
Officials from the school district and Assistant District Attorney Jean Seaton all say that as far as they know, students did not witness any of the alleged incidents.
“I know that with the one staff that did disclose to me, she said there were no students that were present, and that her door was locked,” said Wegner, the assistant superintendent. “Her classroom door was locked, but students were in the building.”
The district did not officially say anything to parents, or even most staff members, before Friday’s indictment. Wegner says they told police they wouldn’t go public until the police had concluded their investigation.
Bradshaw says he expects a message will go home to parents soon from current Blatchley Principal Ben White. Wegner says parents with questions should call the district office and talk to her or Bradshaw.
“We would be happy to talk to anybody with the information we have, but at this point, we don’t have a lot of the information either,” she said. “We are working hard to make sure the students and the staff are safe at all times. As soon as we heard about this, within hours, we took action. He was not around staff or students as a result of our knowledge, as soon as we found out.”
Robidou appeared in court Friday for arraignment. He is free on $7,500 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 11.
This year’s Iditarod field includes 13 rookies. Many of them are very experienced, while just a few are new to the sport. At least two may have to race all the way to the finish for the Rookie of the Year award.
Fort Yukon’s Josh Cadzow comes from a family of mushers. He started the Iditarod last year, with high hopes.
“Last year, I didn’t come to expose my dogs to other dogs until a couple weeks before the Iditarod,” Cadzow said.
Kennel Cough eventually turned into pneumonia and Cadzow was forced to scratch 300 miles before the finish line. This year, Cadzow has taken his dogs to a few races to expose them to other teams. He hasn’t set any specific goals, but he knows what his team can do.
“I’m only 26 but I made a lot of major mistakes already in my mushing career. Now, I’m just hoping I don’t make any more. I’m an old 36. I’ve logged a lot of training miles this year and I think I’ve done everything I can to get this team to do their best,” Cadzow said.
But Cadzow will have to keep an eye out for Joar Lleifesth Ulsom. The 26-year-old Norwegian brought a few dogs over from Norway this year, but he also has a few wildcards.
“I had some bad luck just a week before the race with some dogs dropping out on me, so I had to take some spare dogs that I had and they’re doing much better than I thought,” Lleifesth Ulsom said.
Lleifseth Ulsom is soft spoken, but extremely driven. He’s running as part of an educational effort called ‘Racing Beringia.’ As he shoveled spoonfuls of beef stew into his mouth in Rainy Pass, he said he wasn’t paying attention to teams around him, but his competitive nature is likely to keep him up front.
“I don’t have a clue what’s going on, so I’m just running he schedule and taking care of the dogs. There’s nothing I can do about it and I’m not gonna change my schedule,” Lleifesth Ulsom said.
Both Lleifseth Ulsom and Josh Cadzow say they have a laid back attitude about the trail ahead. Without the nerves common to rookie mushers it could be a mad dash for Iditarod Rookie of the Year.
Mushers have known since the start that this year’s race is likely to be fast, but many seemed surprised that the blistering pace would pick up so early. Mushers typically plan to maintain strong teams and take their time along the first third of the trail.
Martin Buser surprised nearly everyone when he arrived in Rainy Pass in the early hours of Monday morning. At the restart in Willow Sunday, the four time champion said he was happy to leave the chute first. “For the rest of the filed I would suspect that’s a lot of pressure,” he smiled, “but I rather enjoy it. I think that’s a perfect schedule for me.” Buser has three decades of Iditarod racing under his belt. It may have been his plan all along to set a fast pace. In Willow, he said he was more prepared than he’s ever been. “I should get into the race with a sled that’s set up, a team that’s trained up and equipment that’s kind of fine-tuned.”
Despite 29 previous, Buser’s race has other experienced mushers scratching their heads. “Are you kidding me? 20 hours off the starting line?” exclaims veteran Lance Mackey. “You gotta be an idiot, but that’s just my opinion.” Mackey moved quickly through Rainy pass, slicing open drop bags as he talked. As he rearranged his cooker, he admitted to at least one major mistake in his own race so far. “I thought I was gonna get in here and have a sixth of my team missing. Apparently, it was first time switching out leaders and I just had a little mishap.” Jake Berkowitz arrived just behind Mackey. Berkowitz helped the four-time champion catch his loose dog. But it didn’t faze Mackey, who took off down the trail after a short chat with a veterinarian. He doesn’t plan to spend much time in any checkpoint this year. “I’m blowing through everywhere!” He called as his team took off. They struggled to get lined out as they trotted across a frozen lake. Spectators and a number of parked bush planes had dogs veering left and right past the lodge. Soft, deep snow had Mackey stumbling around as he reoriented his leaders.
Mike Williams, Junior finished in eighth place last year. The Akiak musher says a soft trailed changed his plan as he made his way for Rainy Pass. “The trail was pretty choppy going into Finger Lake and I knew with not as many dogs teams going through, the trail would be better so I decided to come here,” he says. As a bush plane took off behind him, Williams, Junior was debating about how to set up his run through the infamous Dalzell Gorge, to Rohn and on into Nickolai. He says the punchy trail hasn’t affected his dogs. “They’re handling it really good,” he nods. “They’re doing better than I thought they would.”
Many mushers spent the afternoon waiting out the heat of the day. Pete Kaiser, a three time finisher from Bethel says he won’t be looking to change anything up until after the first third of the trail is behind him.
“Maybe later in the race,” he says. “There will be something different that I do but up until the next few runs, it’s pretty similar to last year.”
Dog care is crucial in the early part of the race. Ken Anderson had just doled out snacks to his team as Defending champion Dallas Seavey pulled into the yard for some rest nearby. But the veteran from Fox barely looked up. Right now, his eyes are on his own dogs. “To me, I could be racing against no one. To me it’s just getting those dogs to Nome as fast as I can and that’s kind of boring,” he laughs. “But it does me no good to key off what other people are doing until the end where maybe you might push a little harder than you otherwise would want to,” he says.
Just across the dog yard, a small woman, clad in pink, was organizing dog booties. DeeDee Jonrowe started the Iditarod for the 31st time this year. She knows better than to think of racing for real before she completes her mandatory 24 hour layover. “This early in the race, I really just need to run what I’ve trained my dogs to do,” says Jonrowe. “If I start chasing other people’s races, I’ll be just patching other things back together later.”
Mushers starting trickling out of the Rainy Pass dog yard late in the afternoon. Many of them say they’d like to get healthy, happy dogs to Nickolai, roughly 250 miles into the race. That’s where they’ll start to look around. With as so teams vying for a top ten finish, it’s too early to tell how things might shake out.
In a late night vote, the Alaska House passed legislation that would change the way water rights are processed. The bill is part of Gov. Sean Parnell’s efforts to overhaul the permitting system, and it’s prompted some criticism from conservation groups like Trout Unlimited.
Rep. Eric Feige, a Republican from Chickaloon, characterizes it as a pro-industry reform package that will help reduce a backlog in permit applications.
“The overall theme of the bill is to bring some more efficiency, bring better service to the public, and to streamline our permitting system,” says Feige. “This goes a long ways to making us more competitive in the world and to help move the resource industry in this state forward.”
The bill gives more power to the head of the natural resources department, authorizing the commissioner to grant general permits for activity on state lands, so long as that activity doesn’t cause irreparable damage. It sets a higher bar for an administrative appeal of a DNR decision by changing the standard from “aggrieved” to “substantially and adversely affected.” The bill also closes off water reservation applications to non-government entities. Right now, Alaska is the only state where individuals can directly petition for specific streams to maintain certain levels of flow.
Opponents of the bill say these changes could put salmon runs at risk. Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, says the policy changes might also limit public involvement in mining projects.
“The bill has far-reaching consequences that were not considered or addressed by the only committee of referral, and it has impacts that are not even understood even today,” says Josephson. “One of the significant impacts of this bill will be on the right to water in the Pebble Mine area.”
Democrats introduced four amendments to the bill, including one that would have created some protections for fish habitat. While none of the measures passed, some coastal and Bush members of the majority broke with their caucus to vote for them.
The bill ultimately passed on a 23-14 vote on Monday, with Republicans Alan Austerman and Paul Seaton voting against it. Its counterpart in the Senate is under consideration by the finance committee.
As the Alaska state legislature starts its budget hearings, Sen. Mark Begich is offering his own request: Put $2 billion toward ports infrastructure.
“A system of deep-water Arctic ports across the region will expedite oil and gas development, expanding fishing and mining.”
Begich made his request on Monday, during his annual address to the legislature. He says that money would be matched by $3 billion in federal loans, if his bill to create an Arctic port authority passes Congress. Right now, the closest deepwater port to the Arctic is one thousand miles away in Dutch Harbor. The Army Corps of Engineers is currently looking at how feasible it would be to build one in Nome or Port Clarence.
But it could be a while before the legislature is ready to allocate that kind of money toward ports development. Right now, the legislature is looking at $13 billion budget, with the possibility of tapping the state’s reserves if it grows further. Sen. Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican, is the co-chair of the finance committee.
“It’s a great program, a great idea, but we don’t have two billion dollars sitting around,” says Meyer. “So, that’s going to be a stretch.”
Rep. Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican who co-chairs the House finance committee, agrees that it could be five years or more before the legislature starts talking in earnest about constructing ports in the Arctic.
In addition to talking about Arctic development, Begich also called upon the legislature to reinstitute a coastal management program. And he described a suite of education bills that he just introduced in Congress, including one that would increase the child care tax credit.
Begich, a Democrat, also chided the Republican majority he was addressing at a few points in his speech. He called it “unfair” for education to be funded without considering inflation, and he described a bill that tightens current voter identification rules as trying to solve a problem “where none exists.”
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Anchorage School Superintendent Jim Browder is speaking out publicly for the first time about his decision to look for other jobs. After just 8 months with the Anchorage School District, he announced Friday that he might be moving on.
In the email addressed to staff Friday, Browder announced he was considering leaving the district because one of his daughters and young grandson are experiencing severe medical issues and that he believed it was his responsibility to be closer to them in Georgia. Browder commented for the first time on the situation at the early meeting of the Anchorage School Board Monday.
“I’m still the superintendent of schools, and I’m working everyday in the best interest of ASD students, staff and this board and community,” Browder said. “The board and my administration have a shared vision and a strong strategic plan, Destination 2020.”
“Everyone in this administration and this board and this district is committed to the initiatives and goals within Destination 2020.”
The school board learned Friday that he’s in the running for a job in Des Moines, Iowa. School Board President Jeannie Mackie says Browder had alerted the board that he may need to take time off, about a month ago, to take care of ill family members. But it was news to them that he was applying for other jobs.
“So now we’re in a situation where he is pursuing outside employment, and we will deal with that and move forward,” Mackie said.
Mackie says discussions about finding a possible successor will be addressed this week. Browder replaced longtime Superintendent Carol Comeau in July. He was hired after a more than seven-month-long search that cost the district more than $54,000. Despite the news that he may not fulfill his three-year contract, Mackie says he was the right choice.
“Quite a bit of time was spent on the search. We went over a hundred applications. The board personally read each and every application. We had a search firm that assisted us in that, but for the most part, the board really was engaged in that process and we felt that, and we still feel that Dr. Browder was the right choice. He’s been doing a great job leading our district, and we really do hate to see him have to leave early,” Mackie said.
Over the past eight months Browder has helped the district realign curriculum to the common core standards. Browder makes $180,000 a year. He has not yet submitted an official resignation.
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Air quality in a Fairbanks neighborhood is dramatically cleaner following a court order that shutdown two wood fired boilers.
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Across-the-board federal budget cuts are coming, half from the Department of Defense budget; the other half to other federal agency budgets.
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Two speakers at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce forum on Monday made the case for accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid in the state. They also asked chamber members to speak out on the issue.Last week, Governor Sean Parnell announced he won’t expand Medicaid in the state, at least for now. Valerie Davidson is with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. She was careful not to criticize the Governor’s decision, and was relieved he left the door open to expanding Medicaid in the future:
“Other states who have very conservative governors have made the decision to expand, because frankly it’s just too good a return on investment. Very small modest investment by the state yields pretty significant federal dollars. So I’m hopeful that as the Governor finishes his own analysis that that will point us to opportunities in our state as well,” Davidson said.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium commissioned two independent studies on the costs and benefits of the Medicaid expansion. They show the expansion would offer health insurance to 40,000 Alaskans and pump $1 billion into the state economy over the next 10 years. The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of the expansion for the first three years and gradually transition to 90 percent by 2020.
Karen Perdue is President of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. She says the Medicaid expansion would help lower health care premiums for everyone in the state. That’s because fewer people would show up at hospitals unable to pay their bill. It’s called “uncompensated care” and Perdue says that cost is ultimately paid by people who have insurance.
“Who pays for the uncompensated care? A lot of times that cost gets shifted to private employers. So I do think we need to look at that. Not only would hospitals in the communities do better, but what would it mean for private employers,” Perdue said.
Perdue says the Governor should take as much time as he needs to understand the complex issue. The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position yet on the Medicaid expansion, but expects to sometime this month.
Parnell says he plans to revisit the prospect of Medicaid expansion in December, when he rolls out his annual budget proposal.
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There are currently four women running among the top-20 in this year’s Iditarod. This year’s race could be both extremely fast and extremely competitive. The women in the race aren’t holding back.
After placing second last year to Dallas Seavey, Aliy Zirkle decided she was no longer just training dogs, but she’d also need to train herself to claim an Iditarod win.
“We decided our lifestyle oughta be a little more fit. Our dogs are the most fit athletes in the world and standing on the back of the sled like a big lug seemed a little bit unfair,” Zirkle said.
This is Zirkle’s 13th Iditarod. She has her sights set on a win, but she’s learned that anything can happen on the way to Nome.
“The first 300 miles, I run my own team, because I’ve gotta see what I’ve got,” Zirkle said.
Zirkle has a friendly rivalry with fellow musher Michele Phillips. The two battled for first place in last month’s Yukon Quest 300, taunting and jeering each other down the trail. Phillips, from Tagish, Yukon is running her fourth Iditarod. Her highest place was 16th.
“I’d really like to finish top ten. That’s my goal, so I hope we accomplish that,” Phillips said.
When asked about the competitive women’s field, Jodi Bailey, who runs dogs out of Chatanika with Dan Kaduce, was surprised to find out people consider her one of the top women.
“I think that might be a slight mistake. People make that list based on what we have done and accomplished and that’s great, but you need to consider what our goals are for an individual race. This year Dan and I have a young team we’ve been working on building for the future,” Bailey.
Other women rounding out the field include veteran Kelley Griffin, as well as Jesse Royer who may have lucked out when she decided to train her dogs in the warmer Montana climate.
“It’ll be good for me. I’ve definitely been training at a lot of 40 above, so it’s not gonna hurt me any,” Royer said.
The 10-day forecast isn’t calling for terribly frigid weather along the Iditarod trail this year.
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Icicle Seafoods’ Adak plant won’t be processing fish this summer.
Icicle didn’t respond to multiple interview requests, but the company’s plant manager told the Adak city council last month that the plant wouldn’t be operating because generating power is too expensive during the slower fishing months.
That’s disappointing news for Pat Davis. He owns the 48-foot F/V Cascade, and fishes for halibut and black cod near Adak. He says being able to deliver to the Icicle plant saved him a 450-mile run each way to Unalaska.
“It’s just a beautiful thing, you’re not under the gun, you can kind of fish at your leisure. Fish as hard as you want, or take a day off.”
This summer, he’s anticipating a more rushed schedule, since the trip to Unalaska takes at least three days, and most processors want halibut and black cod delivered within seven days of being caught.
“Once you start, you’re going to have to go for it, or you’ll end up coming back to town with half a load, instead of what you should be getting.”
Less fish and more fuel means less money for fishermen. But they aren’t the only ones that will impacted by the closure. The Icicle plant is one of the few industries on the island, and the primary source of tax revenue for the city of Adak. City manager Layton Lockett says the closure could reduce tax revenues for the year by 20 to 30 percent.
“It will be painful. However, based on experiencing the complete closure of the fish processing plant — the situation wouldn’t be new.”
In 2009, the company that used to own the plant went bankrupt, and it was shuttered until Icicle bought it in the spring of 2011. Lockett says the impact of this summer’s closure will be spread out over several years because of the way state fisheries landing taxes are distributed.
“There will be a delay. Which will help lessen the pain of a seasonal closure, which we expect only to really occur this year. We don’t expect that in the future.”
Lockett says Icicle has assured the city it’s working to reducing its energy costs so the plant can stay open year-round.
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